Today’s matchup against the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals showcased two 5-6 teams on the outside looking in with respect to the AFC playoffs race. The victor of today’s game would take a big step forward in their postseason pursuit, with the loser likely falling out of the race all together. It was good news for Broncos Country, as Denver defeated Cincinnati by a score of 24-10. Here are five things we learned from today’s big victory.
1. Broncos keep pace in pursuit of AFC wildcard playoff berth
The Broncos did their part with a win over the Bengals, but they got some help elsewhere in several other games. The good news is that the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans notched a huge win over the Cleveland Browns. The bad news is that the Baltimore Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins were able to hold off the Buffalo Bills.
Next week the Broncos head on the road to play the San Francisco 49ers. The Ravens will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs next weekend. Meanwhile, the Colts will take on the Texans which will both have huge playoff implications. Hoping for a Broncos’ win against the 49ers is a must, but you will want to be cheering for the Chiefs and Texans to take care of business against the Ravens and Colts. You will also want to cross you fingers and hope the New England Patriots can take care of business against the Dolphins as well.
Even with all that mentioned, it’s likely that the wildcard spot is going to come down to the last game of the season before it is finalized. Denver just needs to take care of business and win out. If they do, the odds are great that they will make the dance.
2. Broncos continue their streak of takeaways
Earlier this week, I discussed the major reason the Broncos had won two huge games over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers — takeaways. The Broncos continued that recipe for success against the Bengals with three key takeaways in the second half. Backup safety Dymonte Thomas secured a fumble on an Alex Erickson muffed punt and Justin Simmons was able to intercept an errant Jeff Driskel throw in the third quarter. Not only that, Bradley Chubb was able to get a strip-sack of Driskel in the final moments of the fourth quarter to put the final nail in the coffin.
All of those turnovers resulted in points on the board for Denver and changed the overall tide of the game. While the team might be giving up some big yards in recent weeks, the fact that they can take the ball over and score points off those takeaways has been paramount. You have to love that!
3. Broncos’ offense ignites in the second half
I was extremely optimistic that the Broncos’ offense would be able to make some big plays against a Bengals’ defense that ranked worst in the National Football League in almost every category. After two quarters of play that didn’t seem likely to transpire considering how out of sync the offense was. That being said some things just take time and thankfully the Broncos’ offensive fortunes changed in the second half.
After an inconsistent first half, Case Keenum was able to connect with Courtland Sutton on a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass that gave Denver an eleven point lead. It was nice to see Sutton make a handful of clutch plays after his worst game of the season last weekend. He finished the game with four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.
On their next offensive possession, rookie phenom Phillip Lindsay sped by and torched the Bengals’ defense on a 65-yard touchdown run that left everyone inhaling dust off his cleats. Those two plays were absolute game-changers and gave the Broncos the momentum necessary to achieve victory. Lindsay embarked on another impressive game totaling 157 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. He became the eighth rookie in team history to amass 1,000 all-purpose yards.
4. The Broncos dialed up the heat on Jeff Driskel
With the Bengals’ offensive line being decimated by injuries throughout the season, today’s game provided an opportunity for the Broncos’ arsenal of pass rushers to get after the inexperienced Jeff Driskel. After a game-clinching interception last weekend, Shelby Harris continued to prove how valuable he is for the franchise and had a great game against the Bengals notching 1.5 sacks. The same goes for Von Miller who was able to down Driskel just as much as Harris and earned himself 1.5 sacks as well. Chubb’s aforementioned strip-sack in the fourth quarter was also crucial in this regard. Let’s hope the Broncos’ defense can keep the heat turned up high the last four games of the season.
5. Broncos’ defense loses Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe to injury
During the first quarter on a key third down play going up against A.J. Green one of the worst things imaginable could have happened when Chris Harris Jr. left the game with a lower right leg injury. He was assisted by trainers and wasn’t able to put any weight on his right leg, subsequently carted off the field and did not return to the game. According to Mike Klis, the Broncos have confirmed that Harris Jr. suffered a fractured fibula.
Additionally, starting inside linebacker Josey Jewell left the game early on with an ankle injury and was replaced by Joe Jones. Things got worse for the Broncos when Derek Wolfe suffered a rib injury halfway through the second quarter and did not return for the second half. In the midst of a wildcard playoff berth pursuit, the last thing the Broncos needed was a handful of key players on defense going down with injuries. We will continue to update Broncos Country on the status of these players as more information develops.
Chris Harris Jr's fractured fibula may not be as bad as the one that ended Matt Paradis' season. It will be interesting to see if Broncos put Harris on IR. Hours after injury, it's possible he could return for playoffs if Broncos get there. More evaluation coming. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) December 2, 2018
So Broncos Country, what were your five big observations from today’s game? Sound off in the comments section and make your voice heard!